ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — The new school year began Thursday for students in the Round Rock Independent School District.
Like many districts in the Austin area, it’s starting off virtually — with girls and boys listening from home to their teachers’ lessons and not interacting with their classmates or friends like they normally would.
That change because of the pandemic raised questions about how it may affect students and their mental health. Plus, teachers are dealing with a new reality as well as concerns about their own health and safety.
Two administrators from Round Rock ISD joined KXAN’s digital anchor Will DuPree for a virtual conversation Thursday afternoon to talk through some of these topics. Dr. Amy Grosso, the director of behavioral health services, and Dr. LaShanda Lewis, the district’s coordinator for counseling services, answered questions.
Grosso’s son started first grade virtually Thursday, and she shared a photo on Twitter of the setup she created for him to learn remotely.
“If I wanted him to be excited about starting virtually, we needed to make it a big event,” Grosso said, “so that was like setting up his little space. He got a little desk. It’s in his bedroom, but we sort of housed it off.”
The first online school day also went well for Lewis’ own children, who are in third and sixth grades respectively.
“As much as my son loves going to school physically, he was excited to see his friends,” Lewis said. “This year, my daughter, who’s starting sixth grade of course, she wanted to be in the building for sixth grade, but she also understood everything that we’re going through.”
Lewis works with counselors at all of the different campuses in the district, so she detailed the outreach that they are doing to still connect with students and their families while learning is held remotely.
“Our counselors have the ability to work with our students virtually,” Lewis explained. “For our counselors, especially since they’re working K-12, it really depends on what does that comfort level for our students, so it could be through a video system. We forget that we can also pick up the phone and call people so that our counselors are there for our students.”
“Our students also like to send in emails,” she added, “and so our students can connect with counselors through emails, as well, and that’s the same for parents. If they have a question or a concern or they just really need some advice on how to support their child during this time, the counselors are there for them.”
Part of Grosso’s job is to oversee programs for students who are in crisis or at-risk. She said the pandemic is not preventing the district from reaching those vulnerable students.
“We have a lot of different things in place,” Grosso said. “One of them is our Anonymous Alert reporting system that we’ve had for years. We redid some of the categories this summer just for concern for student well-being. Anybody can put that in there, and so those are followed up.”
“Also, it’s a lot of partnerships between behavioral health and our counseling services department and even our teachers, like letting teachers knew these are some warning signs to look out for,” she explained. “It’s not your job to fix it, but then you can reach out to our counselors who are trained and equipped to be able to do those things. We’ve also starting, last March, our mental health centers, which is a partnership with Bluebonnet Trails. They were completely televideo, so our students are still able to actually have therapy through the district.”